Nick Coffer, author of My Daddy Cooks, gets stuck into decorating spooky spider cakes with his four year old son, Archie.
From the moment I discovered there was some kind of regional shortage of liquorice wheels (I tried three major supermarkets, all to no avail), I realised that this Halloween recipe may well be cursed. And once me and my little monster had finished in the kitchen, it really did look like a scene from a horror movie...
The recipe for the actual cupcakes is classic. I chose to make mine ahead, while Archie was at nursery. When cooking with a four year old, I have to accept that his attention span is limited. Making the cupcakes together, waiting for them to bake then cool down before decorating them would probably be too drawn out to keep him interested. I cheated by using a food mixer but it's much quicker and I made a double batch so we could have lots to decorate.
I was ambitious. Too ambitious. As well as making the spiders (by substituting fizzy cola laces for the liquorice), I also wanted to make some ghosts and some witches' hats. This meant that, by the time Archie joined me in the kitchen, there was as large an array of sweets and decorating temptations as any little boy could hope to find. A few cola laces later and Archie was literally bouncing in his stand!
When cooking with kids, there is nothing better than discovering something fun by accident, like the time we realised the fun to be had by pouring vinegar on to baking powder (try it and add some red food colouring too!). I had decided to make some butter icing to use for our ghosts (just a classic 250g butter, 500g icing sugar and a drop of milk) and, for ease, chose to make it in my food mixer. Having softened the butter, Archie poured in the icing sugar, immediately spotting the fine 'smoke'. When he turned on the mixer, the effect was multiplied, a fine sugary mist billowing out of the bowl. 'It's a cauldron, daddy!' I said of course it was, knowingly, as if I had planned it all along.
We started with the spiders. Very easy for an adult, a little too fiddly for a four year old. He diligently tried to place the legs in the cupcakes and, sure enough, we managed to make three slightly depressed looking spiders. But by this time, Archie had his eyes on the gamut of wonderful sweets and decorations in front of him (including some silver shimmer spray) and basically decided to go freestyle. And when Archie goes freestyle, chaos ensues. Our spider cupcakes became monster cupcakes, the Liquorice Allsorts offering ample opportunities for one-eyed scariness. Add on some silver shimmer and Archie was creating some seriously ugly monsters.
I had bought some ready-to-roll sugarpaste icing too for our ghosts. The plan was to make a mound of butter icing on a cupcake, cut a square of the sugar icing and lay it on top, then draw some facial features with an icing writing pen. Of course, Archie was not satisfied with a simple ghost. His ghost had to be a pirate ghost, complete with pirate hat!
Well we had a blast - the messy kitchen carnage certainly bore testimony to that. The recipe itself works really well but it was a touch too intricate for my four year old to accomplish. Still, cooking and baking with kids is not about perfection. He loved what he created and, most importantly, was proud of it too. The cupcakes were moist and light, the finished products a little, well, psychadelic.
Archie loved eating the cupcakes but he loved decorating them most of all. Having kids in the kitchen is all about creative play, and this certainly was creative and playful. 'Daddy, my alien is too ugly to eat!', he said. When making Halloween cupcakes, that sounds like mission accomplished to me, mwaahahahaaaa.
Make your own spooky spider cakes